Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

A lunker bass … on trout PowerBait?

This week’s column tells the story:

Experts would say Hilda Baker didn’t have the right gear to fish for bass.
Maybe so, but no one can argue with her results.
Earlier this month, while staying at her family’s Pocahontas County camp, Baker went fishing for trout at Seneca State Forest and ended up landing one of the biggest largemouth bass ever caught in West Virginia.
Weighed on official scales more than 12 hours after it was caught, the lunker largemouth checked in at 9.55 pounds and measured 24 inches in length. Since dead fish tend to quickly lose body mass, it’s reasonable to believe the bass weighed close to 10 pounds when Baker caught it.
What’s most remarkable about the fish is that it came from a 4-acre public pond not known to yield many bass of any size, let alone a whopper.
Baker, who lives in West Hamlin, certainly wasn’t thinking about bass on June 7, when she and her husband loaded up their ultralight spinning rods and made the short drive from their Huntersville camp to Seneca State Forest. Hatchery crews had stocked Seneca Lake a couple of weeks before, and plenty of trout remained to be caught.
“By 6 o’clock that afternoon, we had only caught three or four trout,” Baker said. “I was sitting there, fishing with PowerBait on a No. 16 treble hook, when something jerked on the line.”
When Baker jerked back, she felt weight and power like nothing she’d ever experienced.
“I only started fishing about a year ago, and I’d never caught anything very big,” she said. “I could tell that this was something really big.”
Baker began to reel. At first, the monster largemouth came in easily.
“It came in almost to the bank with nearly no effort,” she said. “But then it began doing its thing. Three other people were fishing near where we were, and when they saw how big the fish was, everyone got pretty excited.”
Baker knew she couldn’t put much pressure on the bass without breaking the fragile 4-pound test line. She let the fish run and thrash about, and hoped against hope that it would eventually tire.
“People were worried that it would get away, and I was, too,” she said.
As the battle wore on, her husband and the other anglers offered, as she put it, “a lot of unsolicited advice.”
“I told them there would be trouble if the fish ended up getting away,” Baker recalled.
An anxious 15 minutes passed before the bass began to tire.
“All I could think was ‘Don’t let that sucker get off,'” Baker said. “I finally got it in close, and one of the guys netted it. I don’t even remember who it was. I just looked at it and said, ‘It’s here!'”
After taking the bass around the lake to show it to another angler, Baker and her husband took the fish to be weighed. The forest’s office didn’t have any scales. Neither did a local sporting-goods store.
“We ended up taking it the following day to the Fas Chek supermarket in Marlinton,” Baker said.
At 9.55 pounds, Baker’s bass fell considerably shy of the state weight record of 12.28 pounds, caught from a private Grant County pond in 1994 by David Heeter. It also fell short of the length record of 25.75 inches, caught by Eli Gain in 2001 from Harrison County’s Dog Run Lake.
Baker doesn’t care about records. She hopes to have the bass mounted, and plans to claim permanent bragging rights over her husband and son.
“This will be hard for me ever to improve on,” she said. “But it will be hard for anyone to beat me, either.”